Why Filipinos Love Going to the Movies

I read an article from Inquirer newspaper that I think is very enlightening about why movies in the Philippines tend to be the way it is. The article is also a good reference to remember when one is thinking to produce or market a movie.

ESSAY : Why Filipinos Love Going to the Movies

By Michael Tan


Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: June 01, 2008


MANILA, Philippines – While interviewing people for this article, I realized that there’s a difference between liking movies and going to movies. Obviously, people who go to movies like movies, but it doesn’t always work out that people who like movies go to movies. Moreover, people who don’t actually like movies might still go watch them.

It’s not that complicated really, especially when you look at the Philippines. Most Filipinos don’t just like movies; we love them. But even in the era before Betamax, VHS, VCD and DVD, there weren’t that many Filipinos who actually got to go to movies on a regular basis. I’d venture to say that most of our smaller towns never even had their own moviehouses. Poverty levels were just so high in some rural areas that a moviehouse would have gone bankrupt.

These days, theaters are in even more dire straits. Even in Metro Manila, many of the grand old theaters no longer show movies; they’ve been bought up, or leased to religious charismatic groups who use them for their prayer assemblies.

But there still is a place for moviehouses. I asked around and was surprised to find that many people do go to the theaters, which are now mostly inside the malls. One of the first people I interviewed for this article told me he doesn’t actually like the movies, but he goes anyway, mainly when he’s dating. That reminded me that going to the movies is, foremost, a social activity for Filipinos.

We go to the movies as families, as a barkada (peer group) or as dating couples. Spending for the movie and the snacks, or even lunch or dinner, is part of the courtship process. My younger male informants also remind me that watching a movie in a theater is more romantic than taking in a DVD at home – it’s not just the larger-than-life screen but the dark, and the cold, and the whole ambiance that allows one to be more cozy, more cuddly.

After marriage, there’s just less time for the movies. Going off to a moviehouse then becomes a special treat, one which is accompanied by food and strolling around, which is why the shift of the theaters into shopping malls was inevitable.


Can moviehouses be sustained? Maybe, but it’s a precarious existence for now. The shift to home viewing of DVDs is quite serious, but it still sustains, to some degree, a movie industry. There’s still magic to a movie, whether viewed in one of those expensive home theaters, or on a small television set.

And the preferences? Only males seem to have a specific preference, graphically described by one person I interviewed as B&B (bakbakan and b**bs), stuff best watched at home. Other than this male bias, people were fairly consistent— across ages and classes—in favoring comedies, love stories, horror films and… ”drama.” Drama? That seems to be a catch-all term for movies that bring out one’s emotions: laughter, mirth, sadness, sometimes even anger. People like “true stories,” the kind popularized by “Maalaala Mo Kaya.”

“Serious” films don’t quite have a mass appeal, with people being very specific in explaining why: “yung puro salita” (all conversations), “masyadong pilosopo” (too philosophical), “mabigat” (heavy), “nakakalungkot” (makes one sad). When I probed about films dealing with social problems, people were even less enthusiastic. Low-income Filipinos whom I interviewed were particularly averse to such films, complaining that life’s hard enough without having to be reminded about it on the silver screen.

Two groups seem to stand out with a preference for these “serious” films: college students and gay men. These are the segments of the population that have allowed indie films to emerge, meaning movies made by independent producers and directors who use digital technology. The lower production costs allow these independent filmmakers to move into riskier genres.

Listening to people describing their preferences, I’ve realized too that “drama” seems to be what unites Filipinos in their movie preferences, although the definition may vary somewhat. For the masses, “drama” means stories that touch the heart, preferably “true stories” or at least those based on a true story. Snooty upper-class Filipino film buffs will say they prefer “serious films about, you know, life,” but when you think about it, these “serious films” are often a variation on the “true story,” fulfilling the need to see art imitating life. What is different is that upper-class Filipinos want a bit more of irony, less of the predictable “lived happily ever after” endings which have become standard in our movies, even the indie ones.


What about the future? It’s hard to say. On one hand, the pirated DVDs do threaten the movie industry. And the stuff being sold in Quiapo is dismal, mostly B&B. On the other hand, video shops seem to be thriving with a larger variety of films, including “serious” stuff and, I notice now, copies of old movies, including Filipino classics.

In the end though, it’s still economics at work. It’s an emerging middle class, with more disposable income and higher standards for the movies, that holds hopes for a renaissance of both the movie industry and moviehouses.


*originally posted on my old blog June 12, 2008

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